Editorial 1/ Price of dignity
Editorial 2/ A humble request
Playing god on the field
Fifth Column/ Back on track again
Growth without development
Document/ New bearings on life and vegetation
Letters to the editor

 
 
EDITORIAL 1/ PRICE OF DIGNITY 
 
 
 
 
The right to die has become one of the most intensely debated issues the world over. The experience of incurable pain and gradual loss of control through dependence assails the very basis of human dignity. Yet the fear of misuse, as well as religious and ethical objections, have made the issue extremely controversial. Very few countries have given it legal recognition, and that too, of varying grades. Euthanasia is legal in the American state of Oregon, and in Japan and Switzerland. The parliament and supreme court of the Netherlands have allowed physician-assisted suicide recently, which is not quite the same thing as voluntary euthanasia. In this context, the British high court’s recent ruling makes some important points about the right to die. It has upheld the request of a 43-year-old paralysed woman that her life support machine be turned off. This is the first time in Britain that a patient considered to be in full control of her mental faculties has wished to die. This is obviously an important factor in the judgment. A competent adult is left with a ruptured blood vessel which stops her from being able to breathe without help. The judge as well as the ethics committee of the British Medical Association felt that such a patient has the right to die with dignity if she so wishes. Although doctors have from time to time asked the courts to be allowed to switch off life support for patients in an incurably vegetative state, they were, ironically enough, prevented by medical ethics from acceding to the request of a patient in full possession of her faculties.

The judgment has encouraged the growing campaign to legalize euthanasia in India. Here too, one of the main concerns is psychiatric assessment, to ensure that the patient taking the decision is mentally strong and fit. But legalizing euthanasia in a country like India is a far more difficult proposition than considering its legalization in a comparatively developed country. The enormous differences in education and economic standards could lead to the misuse of the right in the hands of interested parties. Besides, cultural and social factors could act as pressure on old people, for example, which could lead them to the decision for the sake of a family in which they are considered unproductive members. Such possibilities have to be examined before any legislation. It is therefore unlikely that euthanasia will become legal in India in a hurry. But everybody has the right to die with dignity when medical science fails to cure the disease. The judgment in the British high court provides a useful example here because it emphasizes the possibility of ruling on a case-by-case basis. At the moment, this seems the only hope for the campaigners for euthanasia in India.

   

 
 
EDITORIAL 2/ A HUMBLE REQUEST 
 
 
 
 
It is a situation which combines the corrupt and the comical, and a bit of the pathetic. Air Marshal Manjit Singh Sekhon badly wanted to be air officer commander in chief of the western air command. This was no doubt prompted by an entirely honourable combination of valour and ambition. But such manly virtues could often coexist with touching naiveté. It is this last quality which proved to be the air marshal’s undoing. He used his official letterhead to make an appeal to the former chief minister of Punjab, Mr Parkash Singh Badal. Could Mr Badal please use his closeness to the prime minister to recommend Mr Sekhon for this exalted post? And incidentally, Mr Sekhon also hopes to “become Chief of Indian Air Force” one day. Apart from the unsavouriness of such an appeal, this was also a clearly illegal move on the officer’s part. His letter to Mr Badal was subsequently leaked out, and his seniors in the force and the relevant ministry were forced to take some sort of action. Then Mr Badal displayed further naiveté by pointing out, in all earnestness, that he thought it was perfectly alright to ask for an unofficial recommendation because so many people around him seem to be doing so all the time. He even named a few names, and made his own resignation conditional on inquiries into these allegedly favoured colleagues.

The air marshal’s candid sense of the naturalness of his own behaviour provides a telling glimpse into the administrative culture of the armed forces. The network involves the state government, the Central ministry and even the prime minister. The entire system of appointments, promotions and postings is founded on an unofficial, and clearly corrupt and illegal, tradition of favours and recommendations, appeals and allegiances. It is significant that the defence ministry should be implicated in such grey dealings repeatedly, and in such a crucial area as national security. But Mr Sekhon has perhaps opened up a deeper abyss, affording a grimmer view of the operations of power, influence and camaraderie in the Indian state. His resignation and the ministry’s deft handling of its aftermath show the extent of nervous awareness of such realities. In India, such a culture is ancient and pervasive, cutting across all regimes, political parties and institutions of state. Indira Gandhi’s “committed bureaucrats”, the defence minister’s valiant defenders and the Communist Party of India (Marxist)’s academic administrators are all part of this national tradition of patronage and advancement. The distinction lies in the finesse with which individuals tap into this tradition. The much-decorated air marshal should have been more careful with the office stationery.

   

 
 
PLAYING GOD ON THE FIELD 
 
 
BY S.L. RAO
 
 
Technological change has many times in the past not received an immediate welcome by many groups in society. The Luddite movement at the beginning of the industrial revolution destroyed machinery. A few years ago, we had major industrial disputes about the use of computers. Apart from the fear of change itself, the benefits are not always uniformly available to all. Those that are displaced or otherwise adversely affected, try to prevent it from happening. Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance vividly brought out the dimensions of this conflict and adjustment. Society is entering into another major conflict because of biotechnology. Questions of ethics have entered the debate because it is now possible to make fundamental changes to life itself, starting with simple organisms but moving quickly to complex ones, including man.

Such a conflict surfaced in agriculture when, some years ago, the leader of a farmers’ movement in Karnataka tried to prevent Cargil, then the world’s largest seed company, from continuing their operations in Bellary. Cargil remained despite violence to their property and are now a major supplier of seeds which farmers are keen to purchase because of the improved yields that they are able to get.

The new conflict about seeds raises fundamental issues. In the past, searching for desirable variants and propagating them selectively helped in the development of new varieties of plants or animals. The intention was to augment the good characteristics and breed out the bad ones. But this can only be done between closely related organisms. Modern genetic engineering goes beyond this. It extracts the DNA corresponding to a particular gene from a donor and inserts it into the cells of a recipient so that it becomes a part of its genome.

When this is done between species that cannot be intercrossed, the result is a transgenic organism. The donor and recipient need not be like each other. Instead of the laborious process of the past, of grafting and transplantation to build the best characteristics, genetic modification in the laboratory has now become possible. The difference is that entirely disparate organisms can now have genes transferred from one into the other. Since domestication of plants and animals began, the human race has been genetically modifying organisms. The results have been dramatically different from the original organism. But what we have with genetic engineering is something quite different, the creation of new forms of life.

Indian agriculture suffers from extremely low levels of productivity in almost all its produce. Significant increases are possible by reducing wastage caused mainly by poor storage and transport, rodent and pest damage, distortions in cropping patterns caused by government controlled pricing and tariff mechanisms, and the decline in use of soil and water to produce agricultural products best suited to them. In addition, better quality of farm equipment, more efficient motors and pump sets, reliable pesticides, balanced use of fertilizers, are measures that could improve production as well as productivity.

But these measures have their limits. Global interdependence could also help by maximizing creation of products in which we have advantage, and importing those where we do not. But with a great part of our population being grossly undernourished and with low levels of consumption generally, we need substantial increases in the availability of agricultural produce.

There is practically no new land available for agriculture, one way of quickly increasing production. We must have substantial increases in productivity. Many argue that such increases are only possible if we have seeds that have been genetically modified so that they have built-in resistance to pests, have greater nourishment capability, and can offer substantial increases in production.

Opinion in the world is divided on the use of genetically modified organisms. In the last six years, their use has spread in the United States of America to cover over 20 per cent of the maize acreage. Over 100 million acres are planted in the world today with transgenic crops. On the other hand, Europe has been firmly resisting their use. India has yet to take a firm decision, though it has been reported that genetically modified cotton seeds that are resistant to the boll weevil have gone into fairly widespread use in parts of Gujarat, even though the tests are not completed.

What are the objections to the use of GMOs? The first is the threat to human health. Here, the objection seems not so much about the product as about the process and its unknown ramifications. So far, no adverse consequences have taken place due to GMOs, and when they were anticipated, the GMO was not pursued. One issue is that the companies that want to distribute such genetically modified products give the data on which safety assessment is based even in the US. Also, an inherent problem with GMOs is that they are more likely to produce unpredictable results. Clearly, this is a threat that must get thorough consideration in each case.

The second threat is to the natural environment with the production of “superweeds” that will spread rapidly and dominate other growth. This could be a real threat but only after the GMO is propagated on a large scale. That will also enable such growth to be identified well in time to prevent further use of the GMO.

The third threat is to agricultural production because of the more rapid evolution of resistant pests. This is also a threat that can be identified through proper testing, and the use of such GMOs can be prevented.

The other fear is that our traditional, idyllic pastoral economy will be disrupted by the introduction of GMOs. This harking back to a non-existent pastoral idyll must be weighed against the prosperity that will accrue from more and higher quality of agricultural produce with the use of GMOs.

There is, finally, the moral objection. With GMOs, we are said to be playing at being god. God created organisms in a certain form and it is not for us to meddle with their structure. This is a genuinely held but sad charge that does not recognize that humans have played at being god for a long time. We all try to change our “fate”. Plant, animal and even human breeding through arranged marriages amount to the same thing. One could equally justifiably argue that if god did not want us to meddle with his creatures, he would not have given us the capability to do so.

Underlying the objections to GMOs is a more fundamental one especially when it comes to agriculture. Manufactured, factory-made goods from industry are playing an increasing role in agriculture. With processed foods, agricultural has entered into a marriage with industry. With the GMO, industry enters into the process of agriculture itself by giving the farmer the seeds that he shall sow. The fear is probably that of the consequences. As big money enters agriculture, giant corporations could displace the farmer and he will become another employee.

This fear has to be tackled by social scientists and politicians. It should not come in the way of using GMOs if the genuine threats can be identified and controlled. Too much is at stake, both for our relatively static agricultural production and the future of humanity, for casual decisions. The Indian capability for independent data generation and testing must be greatly augmented if we are not to lose an opportunity nor to subject ourselves to avoidable risks.

This article draws for its understanding of genetic engineering on the article by Richard Lewontin in the New York Review of Books of June 21, 2001, that reviews four major books on the subject The author is former director general, National Council for Applied Economic Research [email protected]

   

 
 
FIFTH COLUMN/ BACK ON TRACK AGAIN 
 
 
BY SRINJAY CHAKRAVARTI
 
 
Petroleum sector reforms are finally on track. From April 1, 2002, the administered pricing mechanism of petroleum products will be dismantled and the oil pool account dissolved. These measures, originally mooted in 1997, are finally being implemented in this year’s budget. Other proposals in the budget include a reduction in the prices of diesel and petrol and an increase in those of LPG and kerosene.

The dismantling of the APM — a system of cross-subsidization by which petrol was made dearer through taxation, while diesel, kerosene and LPG were subsidized — will put an end to government manipulation of oil prices.

After April 1, the prices of all petroleum products will be market-determined. The prices of petrol and diesel will be fixed at import parity level, that is they will be the sum of the landed cost, customs duties, freight from the port to the market, local taxes and distribution costs.

With the dissolution of the oil pool account, the outstanding balances will be liquidated by issuing bonds to oil companies. Private companies will be given distribution rights subject to guidelines.

The Centre first began to fix domestic oil prices in 1974 after the sharp increase in international oil prices in 1973. The inequalities of Indian society had necessitated an oil pool account to cross-subsidize oil prices. But this resulted in the price structure of oil products becoming skewed, with artificially cheap diesel distorting the oil economy’s demand pattern. The deficit in the oil pool account has left oil companies with little finances for routine operations or investments. The recent drop in international oil prices has not only helped lessen the oil pool deficit, but it has also made it easier for the Centre to move forward with deregulation of prices.

Stage by stage

From the next fiscal year, the budget will bear 33 per cent of the subsidy on kerosene and 15 per cent of that on LPG, which is expected to add up to Rs 4,495 crore in 2002-03. This will be offset by an increased cess on domestic crude and a new cess on petrol, from which the government plans to garner Rs 6,264 crore. This increase in customs duties on crude and petro products is in contravention of the 1997 cabinet decision which dismantled the APM. It will adversely affect oil refineries which have been suffering losses owing to sub-economic size, under-recovery, under-utilization of capacity and high cost of transportation. Dismantling the APM may also have a multiplier effect on fertilizer, power and related industries, and even affect their viability.

In 1995, the so-called “R-Group”, first mooted the reforms in three stages. The first stage, from 1996 to 1998, covered rationalization of tariff, withdrawal of “retention margins” for refineries, deregulation of natural gas pricing, decanalization of furnace oil and bitumen and removal of subsidy on diesel, LPG and fertilizer. The second phase, 1998-2000, dealt with the pricing of indigenous crude, rationalization of royalty and cess, and further deregulation of marketing. The final phase, from 2000 to March, 2002, envisaged decanalization of aviation fuel, diesel and petrol. But the reforms process has remained obviously incomplete.

Crude needs

India’s oil demand has grown at an impressive six per cent per annum rate in the past decade. By 2005, Indian oil demand is expected to be 2.8 million barrels a day, a growth of nearly 6.5 per cent from 2001. The demand for natural gas will surge to 7.5 million metric tonnes, to be imported every year by 2005. India’s dependence on crude oil imports has increased from 45 per cent in 1990-91 to as much as 75 per cent in 2000-01. Import dependence on crude oil is estimated to climb up to 79 per cent in 2006-07. The country is already the sixth largest energy consumer in the world, but relies on coal for over half its energy needs.

Domestic crude production plateaued in 1999. Indian refining capacity is currently 2.25 million barrels per day, up nearly 60 per cent from 1999. But low drilling-recovery rates are a major part of India’s oil supply problem. Over the next 25 years, the refining sector will need investments of around $60 billion, while the marketing and distribution sectors around $30 billion. Hence, deregulating oil prices will go a long way to ensure price competition.

   

 
 
GROWTH WITHOUT DEVELOPMENT 
 
 
BY K.B. SAHAY
 
 
Uttar Pradesh, which has given the country as many as eight prime ministers, is today the second most underdeveloped state in the country. It has the highest birth rate, the second highest rates of poverty, death, illiteracy and maternal mortality, and the third highest infant mortality rate. The state also has the dubious distinction of having the second lowest rate of school enrolment and the fourth lowest per capita net state domestic product.

Of all the causes of poverty, ill-health, illiteracy, unemployment and malnutrition, which blight the life of crores in UP, excessive population growth is the most important. Also, of all the problems and tasks facing the UP government, none is more urgent than reducing the birth rate.

The 2001 census highlights the grave demographic situation of the state. Sixteen per cent of India’s population lives in UP, although the state accounts for only 7.5 per cent of the country’s total area. On March 1, 2001, the state’s population was a mindboggling 16.6 crore, which was as densely distributed as 690 persons per square kilometre.

The density of population is over twice the national average. UP’s population has almost trebled since independence. And it is increasing at the rate of 2.3 per cent per year, up from 2.28 per cent during 1981-91. That is, UP is now adding about 38 lakh people per year. If the population growth rate in the state is not checked, in 30 years, UP’s population will have reached 34 crore, which was the population of the entire country after Partition. The birth rate in the state, which remains as high as 3.28 per cent, needs to be brought down on a war footing.

Unfortunately, neither politicians nor the media raised the subject of development or population control in the recently held assembly elections in the state — everyone’s concentration was focussed on caste and communal issues. It is not surprising that politicians are unconcerned with family planning programmes in UP, since the best way to expand and strengthen a caste or communal vote bank is to produce more children, but even the media does not seem to realize the dangers of such unfettered population growth.

Whichever party or coalition forms the government in the state now must wake up to this grave reality and take effective measures to control the rapidly growing population, if the state is to be saved from further decline and an aggravation in social strife. The first step in this direction is to make an assessment of the ongoing population control programmes.

Since the use of contraceptives is the only effective way to bring down the birth rate and control population growth, an analysis of the contraceptive prevalence rate to find out the rate and effectiveness of contraceptive use would best help evaluate the performance of UP’s five-decade old family planning programmes. The CPR is directly related to fertility levels and is generally considered the best determinant of any decline in the fertility rate.

In 1992-93 and again in 1998-99, the ministry of health and family welfare conducted two national family health surveys, which provide CPR figures in India. An analysis of the CPR and its dynamics, emerging out of the NFHS-I and NFHS-II data, brings to the fore many surprising facts about UP’s family planning programmes.

According to NFHS-I, only 19.8 per cent couples in UP used contraceptives. Of these, only 18.5 per cent couples used modern methods of contraception, while the rest 1.3 per cent depended on traditional methods, which are known to have very high failure rates. Here again, as much as 13.1 per cent of the couples who used modern contraceptive methods, underwent sterilization for birth control.

The CPR in 1998-99 increased to 28.1 per cent, out of which only 22 per cent couples used modern contraceptives and 15.6 per cent underwent sterilization. Thus the NFHS surveys show that 70 per cent of the couples in UP who used modern contraceptive methods adopted sterilization. Thus, sterilization is the mainstay of the state’s family planning programmes.

Hence it is necessary to know how effective these predominantly sterilization-dependent family planning programmes are. For this, it is necessary to know the average number of children the sterilized couples had before undergoing sterlization. If these couples had adopted sterilization only after three or four or more children, and if this syndrome was widespread, then it is obvious that even with a very high CPR, these family plan- ning programmes were not as effective in controlling population growth as required.

However, the NFHS studies do not provide this crucial information. This does not reveal the poor performance of our family planning programmes since it is common knowledge that most people in our country undergo sterlization only after having a couple of sons, which implies an average of three or four children at the very least. The absence of such data from the NFHS studies speaks volumes about the state of monitoring and administration of family planning programmes anywhere in India.

Several United Nations studies have highlighted that if fertility rates are to decline, the CPR will have to be above 65 per cent for the Indian subcontinent. Hence a CPR of 28.1 per cent, consisting of 6.1 per cent traditional methods and 15.6 per cent sterilization of extremely doubtful effectiveness — is miserable, both in quality and quantity. It also points up the wastage of resources that has been going on for the past five decades in the state.

Not only is the CPR inadequate, even the rate of its increase has been abysmally slow despite all the government’s claims. From 1992-93 to 1998-99, the CPR (excluding traditional methods) increased from 18.5 per cent to 22 per cent only. This means that the use of modern contraceptives has been growing at the rate of only about 0.6 per cent every year. At this slow pace, it will take another eight decades to raise the CPR to over 70 per cent to bring down the total fertility rate to below the replacement level, as in most developed countries. Of course, for this to happen, the use of contraceptives has to be more effective than it is in UP now. Otherwise, even with a very high CPR, the state may not be able to bring down its TFR even in the next eight decades.

No wonder then that the expert committee set up by the government in 1996 under the chairmanship of the registrar general and census commissioner of India has predicted that, given the present trend, UP will not be able to achieve a TFR of 2.1 per cent — the desired replacement level — before 2100. This means that UP’s population will not stabilize before 2140 since it takes about 40 years more for the population to stabilize after attaining a TFR of 2.1 per cent. So one can well imagine what UP’s population will be by 2140 if the government does not take some truly effective measures to check the birth rate soon. The UP government can learn from states like Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Maharashtra, which have taken stringent measures, and succeeded in curbing population growth.

   

 
 
DOCUMENT/ NEW BEARINGS ON LIFE AND VEGETATION 
 
 
 
 
Based on the recommendations of the task forces, the department has supported research in the following areas: a) development of stress resistant plant species; b) transgenic crop plants for higher yields, pest management, reduction in toxin contents in some crop varieties, and so on; c) development of biological pesticides using biotechnological tools to bring down the pollution load of chemical pesticides; d) development of more efficient bio-fertilizers which will be economical compared to chemical fertilizers, and ultimately bring down pollution load of chemical fertilizers; e) development of new immuno-diagnostic tools for detection of communicable diseases and certain physiological states, such as early detection of pregnancy; f) development of new/recombinant vaccines for the control of different diseases; g) development of new strains for improved production of antibiotics using/ strengthening the existing infrastructure; h) development of highly efficient strains for the treatment of waste waters and conversion of wastes and agro-residues into useful chemicals for industrial applications; i) development of ELISA, phase conjugate reflectivity techniques and DNA probes for the detection of enteric pathogens in drinking water so as to avoid epidemic outbreaks by quick corrective measures to be taken immediately after identification of the enteric pathogens; j) development of cleaner technologies using biotechnological tools; k) development of biosensors for the detection of xenobiotics in the environment; l) conservation of endangered/threatened plant species; m) establishment of gene banks in different parts of the country; n) development of high-yielding technology packages for aquaculture including feed development, breeding and seed production, and bioactive compounds for health, development of spawning agents, and so on; and, o) development of embryo transfer techniques, animal feed for high-milching cattle and development of vaccines and diagnostics for different diseases in the area of animal biotechnology.

The purpose of gene banks is for the preparation of an inventory of important species, preservation of genetic resources, and to optimize their uses. There is also a provision for networking of gene banks on a regional or inter-regional basis. Under this programme, banks have been established at the National Bureau of Plant Genetic Resources, the Indian Agricultural Research Institute, New Delhi, the Central Institute of Medicinal and Aromatic plants, Lucknow, and the Tropical Botanical Garden and Research Institute, Thiruvanathapuram. In collaboration with the ministry of environment and forests, the department has taken the lead responsibility for the following: a) access to and transfer of technology to identify the institutions and develop measures for receiving such technologies and utilizing them; b) priority access to biotechnology results and benefits on mutually agreed terms; and c) advanced informed agreements on the safe transfer of genetically modified organisms beyond the national jurisdiction. The recombinant DNA technology heralded new opportunities for beneficial applications in agriculture, animal and human health, industry, and environment.

It has also given rise to concern over possible unknown hazards from bridging the natural species barrier and the uncertain effects of new organisms on environmental and public health. In order to have effective and safe release programmes, it is necessary to have biosafety and regulatory arrangements in biotechnology. Realizing the immediate needs for these arrangements, the department of biotechnology has prepared the rDNA safety guidelines and regulations. These guidelines cover the areas of research involving GMOs/ living modified organisms; genetic transformation of plants and animals; rDNA technology in vaccines and bioactive molecule development; and large scale production and deliberate/ accidental release of organisms, plants, animals, and products derived from rDNA technologies.

to be concluded

   

 
 
LETTERS TO THE EDITOR 
 
 
 
 

Promise unfulfilled

Stopping before full circle Sir — It is always sad to hear about the death of a young man. The person in question being Ben Hollioake perhaps makes the news even sadder. And yet, here was one cricketer who had achieved next to nothing in terms of his cricketing feats. Although he and his brother, Adam, had made their test debut in the same match against Australia in 1997, Adam went on to lead the English limited overs squad, while Ben continued to be in and out of the side. Indians have particularly fond memories of the young Englishman, since his last limited overs match was against India in Kanpur on January 28 this year. He scored only 13, but impressed the crowds nonetheless. His death would probably be most painfully felt by his teammates in the dressing room of the English squad, currently on a tour of New Zealand. This was evident from the way Nasser Hussain, the captain, fought back his tears on hearing the news. The thought uppermost on everyone’s mind right now must be that this man was too young and promising to die.
Yours faithfully,
Shubhranil Datta, Calcutta

Ways to the top

Sir — The invalidation of D.C. Vajpai’s appointment as director general of police and inspector general of police is a defeat for the state government, especially our “do it now” chief minister, who, incidentally, also holds the portfolio of police affairs (“Court cancels top cop’s appointment”, March 19). The judgment of the Calcutta high court is a milestone in matters of administrative appointments and is in consonance with the earlier ruling of the Karnataka high court.

The contention of the director general (homeguard), Manas Chakraborty, about the discriminatory and unconstitutional action of the government in elevating Vajpai to his current position is serious. The plea made by the state government that it would fight its case in the Supreme Court shows that the government has already made up its mind about re-appointing Vajpai by ignoring the claims of Chakraborty and others. The much-proclaimed selection process is thus nothing but a hoax.

The appointment of the director general of police is an apolitical affair in most states, other than West Bengal. In West Bengal, there appears to be a schism between the recommending authority of the state home minister and the will of the party in power. The latter often recommends Indian police service officers who have proved to be “loyal”.

The politicization of the state home department with the tacit support of the ruling party has brought down the quality of the state police personnel quite substantially. Although the court verdict has proved to be an ethical victory for Chakraborty, he should desist from being too outspoken to save himself from ignominy.

Yours faithfully,
Sankar Lal Singh, Calcutta

Sir — The editorial, “Old expectation” (March 20), argues that seniority alone should not be the criterion for promotions. Fair enough. But it should be more than obvious that the controversy about D.C. Vajpai’s appointment cannot be restricted only to grounds of seniority. There are reasons to suspect that considerations, all of which are not purely administrative, may have influenced the choice. The plea is substantiated by the fact that the appointment was not preceded by the formalities that needed to have been fulfilled according to rules framed by the Supreme Court. The court ruling may be overturned by the apex court, but the protest against the political appropriation of the bureaucracy has been voiced.

Yours faithfully,
Sakti Samanta, Calcutta

Sir — That the entire matter of D.C. Vajpai’s appointment is a political gambit is apparent. Manas Chakraborty’s case was fought by Siddhartha Sankar Roy, a Communist Party of India (Marxist) baiter, and most probably seconded by the rest of the opposition. The editorial, “Old expectation”, is right. Seniority should not be the criterion for appointments to higher administrative posts. What is important is that the appointments should be transparent and open to competition.

Yours faithfully,
Jyotish Sengupta, Calcutta

Out of the net

Sir — The people of Bankura are facing a great deal of adversity owing to poor internet connectivity here. When the line is connected, the connection is so feeble and slow that no web page would open. A large number of people, including students, doctors, businessmen, cybercafe-owners and professionals are suffering as a result of this. Despite repeated requests to the local telephone authority to make the internet line stable, little has been done. No one knows where to complain about internet line fault. Normally, one has to pay 20 pulse for one hour of internet access, but owing to bad connections, the residents of Bankura have to pay upto 30-35 pulse for an hour of internet access.

The matter has been brought to the notice of the district manager for telecom. He seems to be quite indifferent to it. I am an unemployed person and after much hard work, have managed money to start a cybercafe through the Bharat Sanchar Nigam Limited. Many others like me are suffering in the same way. The telecom authorities have no business victimizing us.

Yours faithfully,
Subodh Narsaria, Bankura

Sir — If the Union telecom minister, Ram Vilas Paswan, thinks he has done a great favour to the residents of Durgapur by bringing the town into the range of a local call with respect to Calcutta, with a pulse count of 30 seconds throughout the day, then he is wrong. Earlier we used to get a pulse rate of 36 seconds after 9.30 pm and 48 seconds after 11 pm. Although it is called a local call, it is hardly so, since one has to pay Rs 2 in addition per call as booth charge. Also, the only mobile phone company in Durgapur allows the customers who buy cards worth Rs 250 to call Haldia, Tamluk, Midnapur and several such distant places, but not Calcutta.

Yours faithfully,
Tapan Kumar Ghosh, Durgapur

Parting shot

Sir — It was assumed that the end of the Cold War and the nuclear arms-race came with the fall of the Soviet Union. But after a brief period of transition, the polarization of forces has started again. The European Union has come up as a force that can take the United States of America head-on. The EU started its economic war against the US a long time ago. The launch of the Euro is a decisive step towards this goal. The proactive role played by the EU in the Israel-Palestine conflict and in the war in Afghanistan has shown their political intention. Are we moving towards another Cold War era?
Yours faithfully,
Sayan Sarkar, Sodepur

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